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News | Sept. 28, 2015

US vs Korea soccer to kick off Military World Games

By Gary Sheftick Armed Forces Sports

WASHINGTON -- One of the most anticipated matchups of the Military World Games will take place even before the 7,000 athletes from more than 100 nations march into the opening ceremonies, Oct. 2 in Mungyeong, South Korea.

On Sept. 30, the U.S. Armed Forces men's soccer team is scheduled to play the more experienced Republic of Korea team.

"The Korean team, we're told, trains together all year and plays in a semi-pro league," said assistant soccer coach Air Force Maj. Jeremiah Kirschman.

The U.S. team has only been together for two weeks. They've been training at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, near San Diego.

"The team has made a big transition from the first day," said assistant coach Master Sgt. Mario Marales. "They're playing pretty well together. Expectations are pretty high."

Kirschman, however, warns there are many factors working against his team next week.

This is the first time the U.S. men's soccer team has qualified for the World Games since 1999 in Croatia. The Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or CISM World Games, take place only every four years, the year prior to the summer Olympics.

"Our best athletes in the U.S. typically play football and basketball," Kirschman said, while a different type of football, known to Americans as soccer, is the sport that gets the most attention in many of the other nations.

The strength of the U.S. team, Kirschman said, is speed and agility. He hopes that makes up for their lack of experience. Only four members of the team are returning from the Military World Cup in Azerbaijan in 2013.

Among the veterans are the team's two player-captains: Army Capt. Andrew Hyres from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and Air Force Capt. Kevin Rosser. Staff Sgt. Josh Blodgett, the goalie, also brings a lot of experience to the team, Kirschner said.

At their training camp, morning sessions are usually outside running drills on offense, defense or transitioning from one to the other. Some of the midday sessions, however, have been in the classroom.

Some midday sessions have also included yoga.

"We're trying to get more of the mental side," Kirschman said. "We're trying to get this winning mentality. In the classroom, you can show on the board what you're looking for."

In the evening, the team has been scrimmaging, often against local soccer clubs in San Diego.

The techniques learned in the morning and afternoon sessions are put into practice in the evening under game-like conditions, Kirschman said.

Over the weekend, the team is flying to Korea for their final practices before the big game.

"We're very excited," Kirschman said. "We're excited to represent the United States Armed Forces."

Members of the women's Armed Forces soccer team are also excited. They play France in their first game and then the Republic of Korea.

The women's soccer team has been training at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, for the past two weeks.

The team has been working on one- and two-touch passes and a new strategy.

"We've been trying to focus on a new formation," said Capt. Celine Ziobro said, explaining that what they plan to use in Korea is a bit different from what many of them played in college.

"There's a learning curve just getting to know each other off and on the playing field," said Ensign Morgan Dankanich, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in May. When she returns from Korea, she will serve as an engineering officer aboard the USS Nakin Island, an amphibious ship based out of San Diego.

"You can see little subtle differences" between the four military services, she said.

"It's going to be a very unique experience," Dankanich said about going to Korea for the CISM Military World Games. "I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm excited to experience it."

The women's soccer team has scrimmaged with Tampa Bay United, a semi-pro team, and other local soccer clubs in Florida.

Senior Airman Karen Mutcher is one of the two enlisted members on the women's soccer team, but she said rank isn't a factor on the squad. Anyway, she's used to working with officers after serving more than two years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs as a surgeon's assistant.

She played soccer at Charleston Southern University.

"I think everyone just feels blessed," Mutcher said about the opportunity to play in the Military World Games. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Ziobro actually had that chance to play in a CISM tournament once before, in Germany in 2013. She said players had an opportunity after every game to exchange pins and socialize with the service women of the opposing team.

The language barrier was somewhat of an impediment to socializing, though, Ziobro said. She only speaks English. "We were speaking a lot through body language," she said.

She's excited to go to Korea "to go experience a new culture, meet new people and build relationships," she said. She has the impression that some of the other nations have a lot longer to train together.

"Our primary job is not to play soccer," Ziobro said, explaining that each member of the U.S. team has an important occupational specialty, and that their commanders rely on them to help complete the mission.

She was just certified as a C-17 pilot after working several years with drones.

"A lot of us are behind computer screens 10 hours a day," Ziobro said, adding that military athletes don't always have as much time as they'd like to stay fit and train.

Many of the players on this year's women's soccer team are right out of college, though, and Ziobro said that's a definite advantage. What the team lacks in experience, she said, they make up for in fitness and "fresh soccer legs."